Why letting Taumalolo play Origin could boost international game
March 30, 2021 5:44 am
International Rugby League deputy chairman Troy Grant has welcomed proposed changes to State of Origin eligibility rules.
The proposed changes could enable Jason Taumalolo to pull on a Maroons jersey and Tongan enforcer Addin Fonua-Blake to play for New South Wales and it could revive hopes of Kalyn Ponga representing New Zealand.
Australian Rugby League commissioner and NRL innovation committee chair Wayne Pearce, who is also a member of the IRL board, is conducting a review of the Origin selection criteria to ensure the best eligible players continue to be available for the Blues and Maroons.
According to nrl.com, such a move, which would not be introduced until after this year’s World Cup, is also likely to boost the international game.
This means players with dual eligibility may no longer be forced to choose between State of Origin and representing their country of birth or heritage.
A player that could benefit from this is Blues forward and former Bati Daniel Saifiti.
With 71% of NRL players born outside Australia or having parents or grandparents who were, including 52% of Pacific nation’s heritage, many struggle with representative decisions.
The international calendar beyond the World Cup is expected to remove the mid-season clash between Origin and Tests involving Pacific nations so players who qualify are free to play both – a move expected to please NRL clubs who would prefer internationals at the end of the year.
Any changes to the Origin selection criteria would not open the floodgates for the likes of Canberra hooker Josh Hodgson (England) or Cronulla playmaker Shaun Johnson (New Zealand) to get a start as players must reside in NSW or Queensland before the age of 13 to be eligible.
However, by removing the requirement that players must be available for Australia to be considered for Origin selection the likes of Fonua-Blake, Taumalolo, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Brandon Smith, Jahrome Hughes and Briton Nikora could put their hands up for Blues or Maroons selection.
All were born in Australia or moved from New Zealand at a young age so qualify for Origin but are currently ineligible as they have played for the Kiwis.
There would be no impact on international eligibility as the Origin selection criteria is a domestic Australia policy which had been aimed at ensuring the strength of the concept but is now sidelining a growing number of players who want to represent their heritage.
There are only a handful of current Kiwi internationals affected but Ponga may be able to represent New Zealand, where he first played league at the age of eight and has family ties, without jeopardising his eligibility for Queensland.
Taumalolo also wants to play for Queensland and new Maroons coach Paul Green is keen to select him but the Tonga superstar is ineligible as he represented New Zealand in 10 Tests before switching allegiances at the 2017 World Cup.
The Cowboys lock moved to Queensland before his 13th birthday and would already be an Origin star if he hadn’t decided in 2014 to play for New Zealand, where he was born to Tongan parents.